Medicine is commonly understood as the treatment of disease and its symptoms, however this is a deficient understanding. In many civilisations and cultures medicine was understood to be more about the science of preservation of good health. In Islam, medicine has three aspects and two of them are concerned with other than a disease state.
Who is the Healer? The Ṭabīb
(the all-acquainted knower) and Shāfiʾ
(healer) in truth is Allāh, the Mighty and Majestic. In the ḥadīth of Abu Rimthah who said to the Prophet (ʿalayhis ṣalātu was-salām), “Show me that which is troubling you in your back, for I am a physician.” The Prophet said, “Allāh is the Ṭabīb, you are merely a man who shows gentleness, it’s Ṭabīb is the one who created it.” (Ṣaḥīḥ Sunan Abī Dāwūd, no. 4207). Shams al-Dīn al-ʾĀbādī said, “Meaning, that you simply show gentleness and compassion to the patient (through the means you use) whilst it is Allāh who actually relieves him and cures him.” (ʿĀwn al-Maʿbūd 11/262). Since Allāh is the placer of all causes and effects, then the true Healer and Curer is Allāh, the Mighty and Majestic. Physicians simply utilise the knowledge they have gained of the ways and means – sometimes this knowledge may be deficient and incomplete at other times it may be sufficient to enable the cure and at other times it may be plain wrong and lead to more harm. Some scholars state that having reliance and trust upon Allāh alone, and not resorting to medicinal treatment is something that is superior and is a sign of one’s completion and perfection in tawakkul and that duʿā (supplication) and iltijāʾ (seeking shelter with Allāh) are more beneficial than the use of drugs (See Ibn Ḥajar, Fatḥ al-Bārī, 10/115). However, most state that medicinal treatment is part and parcel of tawakkul.
2. Routes to Cures Are Many
Shaykh al-Islām Ibn Taymiyyah established that cures for diseases are not restricted to any one thing and that it is incorrect for physicians to insist on this. He explained that cure lies in duʿā, medicinal treatment, inherent healing powers of the body, the Qurʾān and so on and are not routinely or habitually tied to only one thing alone. He said, “As for the saying of the physicians that a person will not be relieved of this disease except through this specific medicinal treatment, then this is the saying of an ignoramus. It is not said by the one who knows medicine, let alone knowing Allāh and His Messenger. For cure is not in any one specific cause which necessitates it customarily.” See Majmuʿ Fatāwā (24/267, 268).
3. Principles of Medicine from Experiment and Experience
The Quran and the Sunnah mention general principles concerning medicine, and each nation or culture, as Ibn al-Qayyim explains, has its own approach to medicine based upon its unique environment and climate and what they have learned from experience. Within the medicine of all such cultures there are shared general, universal principles. Thus, it is not that any one particular approach is right or wrong – rather it is a matter of making use of general principles, and then seeking cures based upon them in accordance to what is available to one’s habitat and environment of either foodstuffs or substances and exploiting their properties.
4. The Three Universal Principles of Medicine
From the universal principles of medicine mentioned in the Quran, as explained by Ibn al-Qayyim, are a) maintaining existing good health b) prevention and witholding from what causes bad health and c) removing harmful substances/toxins from the body (that are causes of ill-health). Ibn al-Qayyim said in al-Ṭibb al-Nabawī: (الدواء كله شيئان: حِميةٌ وحفظ صحة) “The entirety of medicinal treatment is in two things: Prevention of disease through precautions in diet and preservation of sound health.” He goes on to explain that prevention is of two types, that which relates to those who are healthy and that which relates to those who are suffering illness.
5. Health is the Foundation and Its Preservation is the Major Part of Medicine
The foundation (aṣl) is health, and disease is an occurrence (ʿāriḍ). In other words the basic foundation of humans is that they are generally healthy, and sickness is something they are subjected to temporarily every now and then. Hence, the major part of medicine is prevention and maintaining good health and not treatment of ill-health. Common sense, reason and revelation indicate that preservation of good health is the major part of medicine. ʿAlī bin Ḥasan bin Shaqīq (d. 215 AH) said: “And Allāh, the Sublime and Exalted has combined the whole of medicine in (just) half a verse, so He, the Most High said, ‘And eat and drink and be not excessive...’ (7:31). (Al-Dhahabī, al-Tibb al-Nabawī, p. 34). One should reflect on this verse carefully. It states the avoidance of excess and alludes to taking in what the body needs to function sufficiently and optimally. This is an indication of the major means of preservation of good health.
6. Principles of Medicinal Treatment
Thus, we now have two of the major parts of medicine: preservation of existing good health and prevention of disease through precautions. As for treatment of conditions when they arise, then the rules in medicine are that the simpler methods should be investigated, those which are natural and do not have side effects – and these exist in abundance for the one who looks and seeks. Remembering that the principle here remains that the actual underlying cause is what is being treated, not merely the symptoms alone. If that is not successful one moves to simple drugs, and then compound drugs – at every stage one balances between therapeutic effects and harmful side-effects.
7. Physicians and the Entire Body of Medicine
Thus, from the above, what we commonly understand as “medicine” today in its narrow sense, is not the entire body of medicine as per the universal principles of medicine mentioned in the Quran and known to all civilisations and cultures for thousands of years. The major and better part of “medicine” are the two principles just mentioned. Hence, we have to be clear that when we use the word “medicine” – we are not referring to taking synthetic drugs. Any person, Muslim or otherwise, who thinks “medicine” is confined to synthetic drugs or surgery and nothing else knows neither medicine nor what Allāh revealed, as alluded to by Ibn Taymiyyah. Rather, medicine is much broader and the causes of cures are varied and many.
8. The Medicine of the Prophet
On that basis, it is incorrect for people to find fault with an approach to health which is based upon these principles. The medicine of the Prophet is based on the foundational principles of preservation of good health and prevention of bad health – as that is the better part and superior form of medicine. It is not permissible for anyone to find fault with this and with one who pursues this path in pursuit of cures.
9. The Business Model of Modern Pharmaceuticals
Modern medicine promoted by pharmaceutical companies in the form of synthetic drugs and powerful substances is based upon treating disease symptoms. Its origins lie in the big oil players of the late-19th century. By the mid-20th century they had pretty much dominated all educational institutions, universities, and medical research. They managed to completely alter the perception of medicine from what it used to be for thousands of years to what we have now and what is referred to as “orthodox medicine”. If one studies that history – and it is documented in great detail for the one who is able to find the relevant books – one will come to learn that the entire goal was to generate a huge, global markets for this new, narrow understanding of medicine involving synthetic drugs. They were very successful, established institutions and created regulatory bodies to help create the monopoly and stranglehold.
10. Health and Disease
Those who pass through the education system, proceed to earn degrees and become doctors and general practitioners, they are led to believe that what they are taught is the only credible form of medicine, because it is “evidence-based”. This is incorrect as disease is not defined as the absence of taking pharmaceutical drugs. Rather good health is a combination of having the right nutrients in the body in the right amounts and the absence of toxins, with a healthy lifestyle, mentally and physically. Maintaining this allows cell biochemistry to function optimally. All disease states ultimately come back down – at the molecular level – to either deficiency in specific nutrients or presence of toxins. Both of these interfere with the biochemistry of the cell, the biochemical pathways, and provide the basis for disease states whose manifestations will vary from person to person.
11. Medicine Through the Lens of 'Health' and 'Disease'
From the above, two perceptions of medicine exist. The first is the perception that the issue of health and medicine is largely a personal responsibility in that it is founded upon maintaining existing good health and preventing what is harmful to health – two foundational principles of medicine alluded to in the Quran. This would mean that a person ensures optimal nutrition to make sure the biochemistry of the cell functions at optimal level. Likewise, a person ensures and avoidance of all harmful elements such as toxins/pollutants (whether chemical, biological, electromagnetic, industrial, environmental, etc.). When illness occurs, it is treated in a series of steps starting with the simplest, natural, non-harmful cures (i.e. no drastic side effects that create more disease) wherever available and then one can move on to others. This perception revolves around “health”. The second is the perception that largely ignores the underlying causes of disease and focuses mostly on disease symptoms through the administration of drugs. This perception revolves around “disease”. The first is built upon the universal principles of medicine. The second is really a large-scale, organised, commercial enterprise which has been put in place by big pharmaceutical companies who want individual health freedom removed and everyone to be reliant on their drugs only – not for cures, but to continually hide and mask symptoms. Because these companies dominate education and research, they produce physicians and specialists who can only think in terms of this perception and none other. Hence, they can only offer certain treatments and are prohibited from wandering into other areas under threat of removal of the license to practice medicine.
12. Health Freedom and Pursuit of Cure
So in short, it is not permissible for anyone to make demands and insist that a person use this treatment or that treatment, since the ruling on medicinal treatment is that at most it is recommended (mustaḥabb) if not merely permissible (mubāḥ) [and only obligatory (wājib) in limited circumstances according to some scholars]. Further, there is no set, legislated approach in medicine, since cure does not lie in any one thing and the servants are encouraged to seek cures. It is not permissible, therefore, for anyone to prevent a person from either adopting measures to maintain good health or from seeking cures for illnesses through ways and means which are not based upon the narrow, limited perception of medicine, through the use of very strong synthetic drugs that merely mask symptoms and give the temporary illusion of cure.
13. Lifestyle Choices and Health, Disease and Cure
Ultimately, the affair comes down to lifestyle choices. Depending on what lifestyle choices you make will be prone to different types of diseases states. If you make the right choices in terms of health maintenance and prevention of illness, you will only face acute (short term) simple diseases that are easily treated. If not, you will face chronic ((long term) systemic diseases, that will be hard to cure unless one makes drastic, long-term lifestyle changes in addition to taking treatments. Symptoms however, can be managed for as long as a person lives, and this is the preferred model of disease for the corporations who specialise in disease (not health). Their business model depends on people being ill. If you can grasp this, then you will understand the bulk of the “medicine” of today.
14. The Knowledge of Health Preservation
In summary, I encourage all people to be experts in the preservation and maintenance of good health and the prevention of ill-health. There is no monopoly on this knowledge. It is open and accessible to everyone. In doing so, you will have mastered the major part of medicine as alluded to in the Qurʾān. Being an expert in “health” – as in how to keep your body, soul and mind healthy – does not require big qualifications, certifications, double-blind studies and so on. Rather, each culture and civilisation already knows through empirical evidence and experience what preserves good health and what prevents disease in terms of food, drink behaviour, lifestyle and habits and precautions. The biochemistry of the body is now well known and researched for educated, informed decisions to be made about diets, supplements, treatments and cures. Modern medicine does not teach this in detail because it does not specialise in health. It specialises in disease states because disease management (not cure) is where the big money is. Thus, it specialises in disease, not health. If you master the better part of medicine which is health, you will only need simple cures. If however, you do not master the better part of medicine, you will be treated with synthetic drugs that usually cascade on top of each other and bring you further illnesses in the process.
15. Benefits of Modern Medicine
Finally, so as not to be misunderstood, there are many positive and amazing aspects of modern medicine, a vast field in itself, that are to be praised, especially in emergency procedures. Our speech here is largely in the context of chronic disease states that create the huge markets for the pharmaceuticals. It is not in relation to every aspect of modern medicine. Further, there are thousands of conventional, qualified doctors across the world who, being open-minded, have progressed beyond their initial training and education to the realisations and points that have been alluded to above. Nothing has been said here that can not be supported and backed up either through religious texts or through the views and opinions of highly-credentialed experts. I personally know doctors from amongst my relatives and others who agree with what has been said here wholeheartedly. Unfortunately, there are others who believe everything that they have been taught and think that it is upon everyone to make taqlīd of modern medicine just as the Ḥanafīs demand taqlīd of their madhhab, and often these people have some degree of arrogance with them too.
16. The Narrow-Minded Calling the Open-Minded to Become Narrow-Minded
One of the weapons used by those who believe firmly in the modern paradigm of medicine to silence those who do not believe in or affirm the narrow perception of medicine is the label of “quackery”. Muslims who employ this label are in great danger because if they were to be consistent, they would be forced, by their unflinching belief in this paradigm, to consider many of the cures and treatments mentioned in the Qurʾān and Sunnah to be “quackery” as well. This returns to their misunderstanding of what “medicine” actually is, as they have been trained to dismiss and discount the better part of medicine as we have explained above.
Abū ʿIyāḍ @abuiyaadsp.
16 Rabīʿ al-Thānī 1437 / 26 January 2016